“A movie with women in it doesn’t have to be only for women,” Lauren Anne Miller, said in a recent Dallas interview while discussing the post-“Bridesmaids” willingness of producers to take a chance on female-centered stories after a long hiatus. She noted that her new picture, “For a Good Time, Call…” had been winning praise from viewers of both genders and all ages. Miller wrote the script, a comedy about two young woman sharing a New York apartment who start a phone-sex service, with her one-time college roommate Katie Anne Naylon. It also stars Ari Graynor and is the first feature directed by Jamie Travis, whose short films have had great success on the festival circuit. Both joined Miller on the promotional tour.
“The oldest trick in the book when writing is to write what you know,” Miller said of the screenplay’s genesis. “And that’s what we did. Katie and I co-wrote the script together, and what we really knew about was female friendship, and she and I are very different people—like Lauren in the movie, I’m straight-and-narrow, while she’s like, you never know what you’re going to get. That was the initial kernel we wanted to tell, and then we decided what world that should be set in. Katie ran a sex phone line out of her dorm room her freshman year in college [at Florida State University], which is the year before we lived together, I should add. Her number was 1-866-FSU-TITS. She made six or eight grand in a semester. It wasn’t about accurately telling the story of Katie’s sex phone line, or the callers that she had. But it was the inspiration that we started from.”
“This is not a documentary on phone sex or a biopic of Lauren or Katie,” Graynor added. “This is a fun, feel-good friendship story. And so the point of the phone sex is always to keep it entertaining, light and funny and not to be titillating.”
Miller agreed: “What Katie and I wanted to do in the script was to use the romantic comedy form—they meet cute, then they hate each other, then they fall in love, then they have a falling out, then they find they love each other and want to get back together. That’s something we really wanted to play on. But there [is some truth to the idea] that something needs to go wrong before you realize it was right. And so these two girls, who were so stubborn in the beginning, probably would need to reach a point where they saw their total downfall before they realize what they had.”
“And there’s something about friendship,” Graynor said. “I always say, with new friends, that I don’t feel like I’m real friends with somebody until I get annoyed with them, because it means some of the shine has worn off and you actually know somebody for who they are. [That’s] true friendship.”
Graynor was asked whether it was somewhat intimidating playing the screenplay’s quasi-Naylon character. “Katie is just an incredible person, a tornado of energy and spirit. She and I like to joke that we share a similar kind of spirit. She was so supportive of me and what I was doing. And as we said, this was sort of inspired by Lauren and Katie, but Lauren is different from the movie Lauren, and my interpretation of Katie is my own—but we share a similar spirit.”
And she emphasized that it was the women’s friendship that remained paramount. “The first script had gone through so many different lives,” she recalled. “There were moments when it became a lot broader. There was a guy who worked in a sex shop and drove a Dick Car. There were all sorts of different incarnations of it. And I think once the four of us [she, Lauren, Katie and Jamie] became a unit, the major message that we kept hitting home was, how do we make this feel as real as possible? How do we ground this relationship as much as possible? And I think that’s what ultimately made the movie successful—it’s what we wanted to watch.”
And how did festival favorite Travis become attached? “His agent submitted his short stuff…and the New York Times did a write-up on him,” Miller said. “His short films are extraordinary. His visual sensibility is stunning. Damon Lynn Roth, who created ‘Lost,’ just tweeted the other day that Jamie is the love child between Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson. And he just got the movie. And he had a real sensitivity for this love of women and their friendship. He didn’t want to over-sentimentalize it, didn’t want to over-sexualize it. He got to the sweet spot of what we wanted to do.”
Travis said, “I’d been reading Hollywood scripts for the past six years…bad scripts. So every time my agent sent me a script, I expected it to be bad. And it was such a surprise to me. I went in thinking that it was going to be empty raunch-for-raunch’s-sake, and came out feeling I had read a really sweet female friendship story, and the kind of female friendship story that you don’t see anymore. I immediately thought of films from the eighties, with Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin and Shelly Long—‘Outrageous Fortune’ is a real favorite of mine. And I feel that films like that aren’t made anymore that feature strong women. It’s a female buddy film, and up until ‘Bridesmaids’ there’d been a real drought. I read it, I laughed out loud, it was the best script I’d read in five years, and I knew I was the right person to direct it.”
And, Travis added, the fact that it was already written he considered a blessing: “I have to say, the thing I struggle with most as a filmmaker is writing. And so to work with writers who are idea machines, as a director that’s a liberating thing for me. I really feel I can do a better job working with writers—that collaborative experience really opened me up to a new kind of filmmaking. My short films are very much art films, and when I first read this script I had no illusion that I was going to take my style—because I have a fairly specific style that people do recognize, the very few people who go to film festivals—and just poke it onto this film, which clearly wanted to be a broad commercial comedy. That would have been a mistake. I recognized that this movie wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about the director. But I had a vision of it where it’s a much more invisible directing style. When I watch this film, I do see myself. But a lot of people who do know my work and then watch this film are really surprised by how ‘this doesn’t feel like a Wes Anderson film at all!’”
But, Travis added, that didn’t mean that the screenplay could be filmed in the form in which he initially encountered it: “When I first read the script, it was the studio draft, and it was a much broader beast than this. What I really responded to was the female friendship, and so it was important for me to get rid of supporting characters, and not let the supporting characters take over comedically, and to really refine the film so it was a friendship story. We really tried to keep this grounded. So it did become a less broad movie, and a more character-driven movie. You go in thinking it’s going to be a sexually gratuitous movie, but really it’s very sweet. And I think within that is a tone of real reverence for women.”
And he emphasized that his directing style had to change as well: “It was a challenge for me, because I’m very much a perfectionist, and I come from a very visual background. My short films are very formal and very art-directed. But at the same time, relaxing with this film, and letting it be more about the story and the characters, and letting the art direction, and the style, and the directorial voice be informed by the characters was a really refreshing experience for me.”
One of the supporting characters Travis had to talk about was Jesse, the friend of Lauren and Katie who’s instrumental in bringing them together as roommates. “You might have heard that he based his character on me,” Travis said. “When that character was written, in the first script that I read before I got hired, it was a very different character, envisioned in a very different way. When we sent the script to Justin, it was such a nice surprise that he wanted to play that character—we’d originally sent him the script for the role of Sean [a regular caller Katie agrees to meet in person, played by Mark Webber], but he was more interested in playing Jesse.
“Justin is such a talented actor—I think he’s really underrated. I certainly didn’t know how amazing he was until I worked with him. When we first started talking, we had different takes on the character. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t go into a stereotypical place, and I didn’t want it to be an over-sexualized gay man. And I remember that during our first phone conversation, he told me he liked my voice, and wanted to have dinner. So we had dinner and he wanted me to read some of the Jesse lines from the script, and he recorded them on his iPhone at dinner.
“I was very nervous about this, because I didn’t want him to do a caricature of a gay man, and I didn’t want him to do a caricature of me. But I trusted in his talent and in his process. In the end, I see a lot of me in that character—I’m not quite that energetic, I don’t think, not that much of a live wire—but our first day on set he was following me around and mimicking my physical movements. And our wardrobe stylist dressed him in similar clothes. And so it was quite bizarre to come to set and feel like I was looking in a mirror at the heightened, beautiful Hollywood version of myself.”